Keenan takes over, Playfair stays
While my initial incredulity over the news, broken yesterday and confirmed today, that Mike Keenan is the new head coach of the Calgary Flames has not sagged, that’s not to say I don’t understand some of the optimism coming out of ye olde Flames blogosphere, which you can find by clicking on my friends in the sidebar.
Since Bob Johnson, the Flames have hired exactly two proven, experienced NHL coaches. Both are named Sutter. (Pierre Page coached Minnesota and Quebec before Calgary, but had only one winning season in five tries.)
Let’s take a spin through the cast of characters who’ve coached the Flames since Badger Bob, with their NHL head coaching experience coming into the job.
Terry Crisp, 1987-90: 0 games
Doug Risebrough 1990-92: 0 games
Guy Charron, 1992: 0 games
Dave King, 1992-95: 0 games
Pierre Page, 1995-97: 5 seasons, 390 games, 161 wins, 0/3 in playoff series
Brian Sutter, 1997-2000: 7 seasons, 536 games, 273 wins, 1/4 in playoffs, 1990-91 Jack Adams Award
Don Hay, 2000-01: 0 games
Greg Gilbert, 2001-02: 0 games
Darryl Sutter, 2002-2006: 9 seasons, 650 games, 303 wins, 4/12 in playoffs
Jim Playfair, 2006-07: 0 games
Now, let’s look at Keenan’s career numbers:
18 seasons, 1,222 games, 584 wins, 3 time Stanley Cup finalist, 1994 Stanley Cup winner
But you know what, we’re not just talking about Keenan today. Playfair is sticking around as “associate coach” and Sutter thinks that, “Together, they will do remarkable things for this team” (TSN).
Take a run through my entries tagged Playfair and you’ll get a good sense of my general impression of Associate Coach Jimmy’s abilities as Head Coach Jimmy. But this was the guy who ran the defence in 2003-04 and 2005-06. I’ve never said he doesn’t have ability — his problems seem to lie in being the boss. This is pretty reminiscent of a few years back when Tony Granato was clearly becoming a bust in Colorado; management knew he wasn’t a bad coach, just a bad choice for the top job, and Granato knew it. So he graciously stepped aside to assist Joel Quenneville, and the Avalanche have benefited from it; last year’s near playoff miss, with a very inexperienced team, will be an aberration, and the Avs look good for years to come.
Is Mike Keenan another Joel Quenneville? I doubt it. I favour optimism AND realism, and Darryl Sutter has made some good moves in his tenure as Flames coach. But he’s also made some bad ones, often related to his loyalty to familiar names. Keenan is an awfully familiar name to him, having handed Sutter his first head coaching job in Chicago back in 1992.
Keenan is also a name, and one of the most decorated coaches in NHL history, to be sure. But his glory days are long past. Old dogs can be taught new tricks — see Bryan Murray’s success in Ottawa, for instance — but Mike Keenan has a big mountain to climb before he proves anything to knowledgable hockey fans. And I imagine the mountain he’s going to have to climb to earn his players’ trust is a little more like Everest than Nose Hill.
Honestly, I’m still kind of shocked about this whole thing. I’ll let you know when I have a little more clarity, how I’m feeling about this on a more granular team level, because I pretty much kicked my chair and stormed out of work today. So anything more than this would just come out of anger and confusion.